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Michigan Governor Refuses to Change Testimony on When He Learned of Legionnaires’ Disease Outbreak

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is sticking by his congressional testimony about when he learned about a fatal outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease during the Flint water crisis, despite a senior aide’s new disclosure that he informed the Republican governor weeks earlier. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan’s governor insisted Thursday that his congressional testimony regarding the Flint water crisis “was truthful and I stand by it,” shortly after a committee pointed out a potential discrepancy and warned him about committing perjury.

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder sent the letter to Reps. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina and Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Earlier Thursday, they had given Snyder until Oct. 25 to address when he first learned of a fatal Legionnaires’ disease outbreak.

Harvey Hollins, the governor’s director of urban affairs, testified in a Michigan courtroom last week that he told Snyder about Legionnaires’ during a phone call before Christmas 2015. Snyder told the congressional panel under oath in March 2016 that when he became aware of the Legionnaires’ cases, he held a news conference the next day, which was Jan. 13.

“In order to resolve this discrepancy in recollection, please supply the Committee with any additional relevant information you have concerning the date upon which you first learned” of the Legionnaires’ disease, Gowdy and Cummings wrote in a letter to Snyder. “If necessary, you may also choose to amend or supplement your testimony.”

They then noted that it is a crime for a witness to commit perjury, to “knowingly and willfully” make any false statement or to “corruptly” influence, obstruct or impede a congressional investigation.

Snyder responded that he reviewed the testimony in question, which came in response to Michigan Republican Rep. Tim Walberg’s question on when he first learned of instances of Legionnaires’.

“While you have offered for me to clarify my sworn testimony, I do not believe there is any reason to do so,” Snyder wrote.

Lying to Congress is a crime if the false statement was made intentionally and was “material” or significant. Some experts say it is a vague standard.

Nearly 100 Legionnaires’ cases, including 12 deaths, were reported in Genesee County in 2014-15 when Flint was using the Flint River for water. The outbreak was not publicly announced until Snyder and his health chief held a press conference in January 2016. It was a remarkable sidebar to Flint’s ongoing disaster: a lead-contaminated water supply.

The Snyder administration’s handling of the Legionnaires’ outbreak has led to involuntary manslaughter charges against six people, including health department director Nick Lyon, who knew about the outbreak months before the governor. Prosecutors allege that a timely announcement could have saved lives.

Some experts have linked Legionnaires’ to Flint’s use of the Flint River. It is pneumonia caused by bacteria that thrive in warm water and infect the lungs.

Michigan Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee, whose district includes the city of nearly 100,000 residents, said he has spoken to Cummings about Snyder’s response to the letter and received his assurance that the committee will keep pursuing answers.

“Either Gov. Snyder or one of his top aides is not telling the truth,” Kildee said in a statement. “The people of Flint have lost faith in their government because of this crisis. The only way we can begin to restore their trust is by getting to the truth.”

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